My last days in Shiraz before my Iran road trip was about hurrying, worrying, and running around like crazy with some arty and spiritual surprises thrown in. The last visit to Shiraz was especially very dramatic since I had a severe cash crunch. The situation stemmed from my own overconfidence and I totally forgot to bring in cold, hard cash before arriving in my favourite country in the world. Iran is a closed currency destination and no American-issued credit/debit cards work there. Traveler’s Cheques also are pretty difficult to encash and the hefty service charges involved, burn holes in pockets.

The last day in Shiraz before my Iran road trip

You cannot use a credit card in Iran

Bringing in a stash of cash is the only option and on my last visit, over-familiarity and eagerness made me overlook this crucial point. Thus I was stuck in Shiraz at Tiam’s benevolent hospitality when finally, after a lot of trouble, we managed to get some money through an extremely circuitous and not very legal route. So while I  achieved the nearly next to impossible task as a traveler i.e withdraw money using my Visa card, my Iran road trip was severely marred by it. Hence I did in Shiraz what every traveler does in times of major cash crisis. I  strolled aimlessly down Shiraz’s beautiful lanes and enjoyed the city’s cheap (and prohibited) pleasures to the fullest. Endless cheap Chelo Kebabs and dougs consisted of my eating out options and I whiled away hours at home, being hyperactive on the prohibited Facebook, thanks to a VPN.

Why go on an Iran road trip?

While at that moment, those cash restricted days seemed frustrating, in retrospect, they were the perfect calm prelude of what was to follow. My aim was to go on an Iran road trip across the northern part of the country and my previous experiences prepared me for its difficulties. Road trips and my Iran visits go hand in hand, and in the past, I had dived deep into Iran’s hinterland on public transport and motorcycle. However, all those experiences were with a buddy traveler or a local guide and on my last visit, I wanted my space. So I hired a chauffeured car to go on an Iran road trip into the interiors of the northern part of the country and thus started my most memorable trip ever. Northern Iran is breathtakingly beautiful and, add to that, its quaintness, its virgin innocence, and unique culture and you will understand why it had been an adventure of a lifetime.

Beautiful interior Iran countryside

The beautiful details of a gorgeous country

The route and itinerary were what adventurous dreams are made of and the journey helped me explore Iran’s diversity to the fullest. From historic cities, misty hills, crumbling coastlines, lotus-filled lagoons, forgotten castles, fortified villages, the “conflicted” far-flung province of Kermanshah to all the way up to the Iraq border, it was one extraordinary Iran road trip. The journey also gave me a strong insight into the Iranian culture, its past, pain, glory, and an eye-opening reality check of what actually happens underneath the media-painted atrocity. However, there is no smoke without fire and the last Iran road trip left me with bitter-sweet mixed feelings. Derak Agency, whose services I hired, promised a sturdy car with real functioning air conditioning and a “sort of English speaking” safe driver who would help me explore Northern Iran for the next 11 days.

Before the Iran road trip

Since the Iran road trip sat on my bucket list for a long time, the sudden cash crisis came as a big blow, and till the moment, I had gotten a wad of crackling USD in my hands, mood swings made me oscillate between disappointed and gloomy. My zeal and confidence returned along with a fat wallet and my last Shirazi day was a sudden flurry of activities. Happy to have me out of my gloomy shell, Tiam excitedly dragged me to all her favourite spots in the city and we started with the beautiful Shahpouri house. An erstwhile heritage house now turned into a restaurant, it was a flower-filled grotto right in the middle of busy Shiraz and a lovers spot. Exquisite tile work, gorgeous garden, tinkling fountains, and an emerald green pool, completed its picture-perfect beauty and it was a place where locals loved to hang out with water pipes and gossip. Hot Shirazi days make dark flowery nooks too irresistible to leave and it was difficult to drive away from Shahpouri house’s loveliness.

The atmospheric old town of Shiraz

However, since time raced, we quickly left to delve deeper into Shiraz and explored the old city’s shaded crevices. The old section of Shiraz was gorgeous. Atmospheric, full of character and photogenically chaotic, its quaint narrow lanes, crumbling caravanserais, and bustling markets all defied time and they revived Shiraz’s exotic historical past. The old city with its incredible mix of stunning street art, wildflowers, traffic, and quaint shops was gorgeous enough and then its residents added the extra zing to its character. Inquisitive ladies in black chadors, toothless skull-capped smiling old shopkeepers, and excited wide-eyed children all spelled exotic and we spent most of the afternoon, tumbling in and out of the winding lanes. Fouroghol Molk happened next and it was the perfect place to spend a quiet Shirazi noon.

What do old historic houses tell you?

Shiraz is synonymous with beauty and art and Fouroghol Molk upheld the city’s uniqueness to the fullest. A lovingly restored, stunning traditional house Fouroghol Molk belonged to a rich Shirazi art lover, and it was an oasis of peace in midst of a blazing hot day. Complete with a lovely flower-filled courtyard, stained glass windows, and dusty silver foiled old rooms crammed with precious artifacts and paintings of Iranian masters, it was like Alibaba’s cave. I love old houses and the tales they pour into patient ears, through their memory-marked rooms, heavy scratched doors, and warped smooth floors. Over the years, they become synonymous with their inhabitants and start bearing the characteristics of their owners. Foroughol Molk too gave off proud tales of its art and beauty connoisseur owner, and it was a very beautiful afternoon.

Mirrored interiors of a mosque

Tiam and I are both art lovers and on that colourful silent noon, we blissfully caught fanciful rainbows on streams of light pouring in through kaleidoscope windows. Those butterfly effect moments among forgotten Iranian masters in a quaint Shirazi art gallery were so amazing that we never realized how fast our time ran out. It was with the closing of the gallery office, that our watches raced once again and we had just enough time to pay the magnificent Ali Ebnehamze Mosque a quick visit. A jewel of a mosque among Shiraz’s spectacular houses of god, dim sunlight, prayers, and solitude filled its mirrored interiors and we rested, prayed, and shared secrets in its diamond-like womb. Dusk was at our heel by the time we reached Ali Ebnehamze and although darkness rendered it a dazzling brilliance, we left it all to rush back to Tiam’s home.

A not so good start to my Iran road trip

It was already been past six when we shared our last tea and chocolates while waiting for my rental car. Ashkan, the driver, and a battered car arrived soon and I started my humongous cross Iran road trip, by keeping my fingers crossed. It was adventurous from the start as Ashkan did not speak a word of English and his car air conditioning was more temperamental than mine. Our first conversation had not gone very well as neither of us understood each other and I ended up having a dusty street dinner at a truck pit stop amidst clawing Koli nomads and disgusting fuel fumes.

My first night at Esfahan

It was not the best possible start but Esfahan, a fantastic city, touted as half the world was on my mind. Thus rushed the first seven hours of my Iran road trip on a satin-smooth highway, stinky toilets, and listening to Ashkan’s squeaky, groaning Farsi song tapes nonstop. Esfahan arrived at three in the morning when the stars were still bright in the accompanying sky and in spite of being bone-tired, the spectacular sight of the lit-up Khajou bridge against the dark night took my breath away. Being a tourist-friendly city, finding a decent hotel in Esfahan was not tough and soon I checked into my lonely room at the comfortable Setarah hotel. Esfahan night was still young as I dreamed into the next day at one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Follow the rest of the Iran series